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Cubs-Diamondbacks Preview

Apr 7, 2016 - 1:46 AM Chicago looks the part of the prohibitive National League favorite early on, living up to an offseason full of adulation - at least through two games.

The Cubs hope John Lackey measures up to expectations when he makes his club debut in Thursday night's opener of a four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

Favored by Las Vegas oddsmakers to win their first World Series title since 1908, the Cubs are a victory shy of starting 3-0 for the first time in 28 years. They've warranted the hype thus far, outscoring the Los Angeles Angels 15-1 and outhitting them 20-7.

The nature of their start is particularly refreshing after Chicago was ultimately let down by its mediocre offense in 2015. The club ranked 16th with 4.3 runs per game and was held to eight while being swept in four games by the New York Mets in the NLCS.

The lineup hardly looks like a weakness in 2016, though. Dexter Fowler is leading the onslaught, going 5 for 8 with a home run and a double, and the club's 15 runs have come in spite of Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber starting a combined 1 for 20.

Three home runs complemented Jon Lester's strong seven innings in Tuesday's 6-1 win.

"I don't like to compare other situations and other rosters and all that stuff," Lester said. "But I like our talent and our lineup because it's deep. So if you want to take one similarity from it, I guess it's that our lineup makes pitchers work and has good, quality at-bats."

Chicago hopes Lackey, who signed a two-year, $32 million deal, adds depth to its rotation behind Lester and Jake Arrieta. Those two combined for 33 of the starters' 45 wins in 2015.

Lackey, a 37 year old who ranks third among active pitchers with 165 wins, looks to build off a career-best 2.77 ERA for St. Louis in 2015, his first full season in the NL.

"I'm not real concerned about (giving up) one or two runs most of the time," Lackey, 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in three career starts against Arizona, told MLB's official website. "I think we're going to score some runs."

The right-hander may see plenty of run support if Arizona (1-2) can't cull its home run woes. The Diamondbacks surrendered 10 home runs in dropping their series with Colorado, including three in Wednesday's 4-3 loss.

"It just seemed like every mistake we made in this series was a home run, not a hit but a home run," manager Chip Hale said.

The long ball was an issue last year, too, as the 182 homers hit against them were tied for the fourth most in the majors.

Despite losing star center fielder A.J. Pollock to a broken elbow last week, Arizona hasn't been short on offense. The Diamondbacks are batting .310 with 19 runs. Paul Goldschmidt is 2 for 10, but has hit .403 with 22 RBIs in his last 18 games against Chicago.

Arizona hopes Rubby De La Rosa can provide its first quality start. De La Rosa won a team-high 14 games in 2015, compensating for a 4.67 ERA with a 5.77 run-support average.

He's 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA in two starts against the Cubs.

Anthony Rizzo has hit six homers with 15 RBIs in his last 10 meetings with the Diamondbacks.

The Cubs have dropped 13 of 17 at Chase Field.